With the clock ticking, effort to recall Forest Grove School Board members faces uphill battle

Twenty-one days into a 90-day time frame, organizers of a campaign to recall a pair of Forest Grove School Board members had collected just under 400 signatures on each of two petitions.

At a minimum, the Washington County Elections Office will require 1,609 valid signatures to bring the issue to a vote, and local pundits say doubling that figure is the only way to ensure it makes the ballot.

It's an uphill battle, but Jason and Jodi Giddings of Gales Creek, the couple spearheading the effort to recall Anna Tavera-Weller and Terry Howell, said Tuesday they'd persevere.

In the last three weeks, they've enlisted the help of about 20 signature-gatherers who've spent dozens of hours sitting at booths, mostly in downtown Forest Grove, waiting for supporters to come by.

'Overall we're getting a lot of positive feedback from the community,' Jodi Giddings said.

One early signer, former longtime Forest Grove Mayor Richard Kidd, said Tuesday that although he was unsure whether he'd mark 'yes' if the recall question appeared on a ballot next fall, he thought district voters ought to have a chance to weigh in on the issue.

'I'm tired of the bickering,' said Kidd. 'I know there are several factions of people in the community who have a complaint against the school board.

'What we need to do is get the question on the ballot.'

Recall politics started simmering in late June after the school board voted 4-1 to adopt a $49 million budget for 2011-12, one that cut electives, eliminated library media technicians and closed Gales Creek Elementary School.

But the Giddingses, who said eight of their volunteers were unaffiliated with Gales Creek, insist the shuttering of their neighborhood school wasn't their lone motivation.

Jason Giddings wrote in a News-Times guest column (see page 5A) that Howell and Tavera-Weller did not represent the interests of the community and the district's students when they approved a budget that 'includes the adoption of a highly controversial $510,000 unproven book program, lays off upwards of 50 teachers, retains eight football coaches to support 100 boys while cutting girls' sports to the bone and awards pay increases for all but one administrator.'

Some members of the Forest Grove School Citizens Advisory - a research-oriented watchdog group - seem to agree and have signed the recall petitions, while others have distanced themselves from the effort.

Petitioners have pledged to continue their drive at various sites around Forest Grove, including holding court in front of the 22nd Street Station Cafe on Saturdays and Sundays. They're also pursuing permission to do the same in Cornelius.

A thumbs-down from the driver of one passing car and a comment from a patron at a local coffee shop that the recall was 'divisive' have been the only negative responses to the drive so far, said Jodi Giddings, who acknowledged that the odds for the effort's success are long.

'I think we can get the signatures, but it won't be easy,' Giddings said Tuesday morning. 'Keeping people motivated to keep working hard will be critical.'

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